(Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said on Thursday he did not regret using the term "anchor babies" in a recent interview to describe children born in the United States to parents who are not citizens.
"You give me a better term, and I'll use it," Bush said in a testy exchange with reporters that was captured on video after a town hall event in New Hampshire.
Bush, the former Florida governor, drew criticism from Democrats, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, when he first used the "anchor babies" term in a radio interview on Wednesday.
Immigration has become a contentious issue for Republicans seeking the presidency in the November 2016 election. Several contenders, including Donald Trump, the party's front-runner, have called for amending the Constitution to end the right of automatic citizenship for all people born in the United States.
Some critics of current immigration policies claim that right encourages people to come to the United States illegally to have children. Critics call those children "anchor babies," although others find the term offensive.
"They're called babies," Clinton tweeted on Wednesday in response to Bush's radio interview.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who is also running for president, was asked about the term in a CNBC interview on Thursday. "Those are human beings, and ultimately they are people," Rubio said.
Bush, whose wife was born in Mexico and later became a U.S. citizen, has said the debate about immigration policy gets too bogged down in charged rhetoric.
Asked on Thursday by a reporter if the phrase "anchor babies" was bombastic, Bush said no, adding that in the original interview he said the term was commonly used by others.
"I didn't use it as my own language," Bush said.
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by John Whitesides and Jonathan Oatis)